Supporting children after lockdown including Childline advice and Kent's Reconnect programme
One year ago this week schools closed for the first time because of coronavirus. Working from home where possible became the norm, parents juggled it with the stresses and strains of homeschooling, teachers remained in classrooms for the pupils of keyworkers, clubs, sports and activities stopped, birthday parties were cancelled and youngsters people moved into a world where contact with friends and family happened online.
A year on from the start of the pandemic we look at the impact the last 12 months has had on children, the work now being started to mitigate it and we have some expert advice on how parents can support children as this lockdown eases:
Kent resident and service head at Childline Wendy Robinson says it is extremely important to remember that a year can feel 'like a lifetime to children and young people'.
The NSPCC-run service has counselled more than 60,000 children and young people UK-wide around mental health related concerns alone since the first national lockdown, as well as more than 20,000 sessions about suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Schools across the country first closed to all pupils on Friday, March 20 last year ahead of the start of the UK's first full lockdown a few days later.
Some children, including those in the youngest year groups, were given the option to return towards the end of last summer ahead of a full reopening for all year groups in September 2020 at the start of the new school year. But a consistent return was somewhat short lived as steeps rises in cases across Kent last autumn began closing class bubbles, entire year groups and whole schools before a third lockdown announced shortly after Christmas led to the complete closure of classrooms again from January to everyone but the children of keyworkers.
The disruption to children, says Wendy, has been long lasting.
She explained: "We still have a way to go to overcome the legacy of COVID-19. It will have a long-lasting impact on children and families, something that we’ve heard a lot about at Childline, which continues to be here for children throughout this pandemic."
More and more young people are talking about their struggles with mental health generally, says Wendy, but also in the last year because of Covid19 and the very real impact it has had and is having on their lives.
"The nature of their worries has changed during the course of lockdown too" she explained.
"We’ve spoken to children about loss of relatives or friends and about loss of freedom. They’ve talked to us about family tensions and anxiety for the future.
"For some children and young people, we have also heard how home is not a safe place and the last year has been a fearful time where there is little escape from threats of violence and abuse."
As the government repeals some lockdown restrictions Wendy predicts it is likely to bring new sets of worries for youngsters and their families and that everyone can play a part in helping steer children through the coming weeks and months as they regain their confidence.
For parents keen on some simple ways to help improve children’s self-esteem as they head out into the world again, Wendy has the following advice:
Getting back into a routine with attending school and college, seeing friends, being in the classroom etc might feel difficult at start but a routine of familiar things will help eventually. Take it slowly and don’t be surprised if they are reluctant or hesitant at first, be supportive and help them ease gently back into a routine at school and at home.
Try something new
Whether it’s a new hobby, joining a club or going somewhere you haven’t been before, trying new experiences can help children to feel more refreshed and better about themselves.
Community sports activities are set to re-open at the end of the month so it’s a good opportunity. Advice on staying safe can be found on the Sport England website.
See yourself differently
If your child is having negative thoughts or thinking too much about things they’d like to change, encourage them to challenge themselves.
They could try writing down one thing every day that they like, it could be their smile, kindness, sense of humour or anything else. If they’re struggling, suggest they think what someone who cares about them would say.
Try a new look
Doing something different with the way you look can help you go beyond your comfort zone and reclaim a sense of self. Why not help them try out a new hairstyle or choose a new outfit and order it online.
Help other people
There are lots of ways to help other people, from volunteering to just listening to a friend. It’s a great way to help children feel better about themselves and shows they’ve got positive things to share and contribute.
Talk to people
Sometimes, it takes a bit of courage but there are some tricks to help. Try taking a breath and talking slowly and clearly. Try asking about the other person and really listen to what they’re saying.
Remind children others can’t see what they’re thinking and they might not even know that they’re nervous. Building confidence can take time, but these tips are a good place to start.
Remembering their old lives
An 'ambitious' programme of activities is being launched in Kent to help children and young people connect with their pre-Covid19 lives as the county moves steadily out of this latest lockdown.
It will be open to every child and young person from early years to the end of secondary school and onto the age of 24 for young people with special educational needs or disabilities.
The Reconnect: Kent Children and Young People Programme aims to help youngsters reconnect with five aspects of their old lives: health and happiness; learning missed; family, friends and community; sports, activities and the outdoors and economic well being.
Each youngster will be able to choose and join the type of activity of relevant support that will benefit them most. This could be anything from enrolling in a summer school to help with lost learning to trying a new sport or club as more time outside and others is gradually permitted.
Support will also be available for anyone within the project's age range who has lost a loved one to coronavirus. And it will be a programme for focussing on the positives rather than any 'damage' the pandemic may have done to learning or education.
Sue Chandler, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Integrated Children’s Services, said: “Children and young people have sacrificed so much throughout the pandemic to protect others, missing out on a year of formal schooling and vital social interactions with their friends and relatives, so this is Kent’s opportunity, as a whole community, to say thank you and to give something back to them.
"This is not about telling children and young people they must attend summer school or they have to start doing more exercise, this is about giving them opportunities to reconnect with the areas of their lives they wish to; this will be a programme of choice."
KCC, schools and other partner agencies will run many of the activities being proposed but existing community groups, charities, sports clubs and other bodies already working with children could also deliver some of what the programme hopes it can offer to families in Kent.
Can you help?
Reconnect is set to run from Easter until August 2022 and the programme will be in addition to, rather than instead of, existing KCC services.
Kent County Council is keen to hear from any organisation, already working with children and young people, who think it can contribute to the new programme in line with its five aims to reconnect children with aspects of their old lives.
The project could also support organisations keen to be involved, for example by helping clubs recruit more members, new volunteers or by buying new equipment, if doing so will help children or young people as Kent comes out of lockdown.
Richard Long, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “I would encourage everyone in Kent to ask themselves whether they could help too. Could your business donate computer or sports equipment? Do you have a spare evening to volunteer with a club? Any offer of support that helps children and young people reconnect will be greatly appreciated.”
Whilst more details about the programme will be set out in the coming weeks and months as it moves forward - and the county hopefully further out of lockdown - anyone with a keen interest in getting involved is asked to visit www.kent.gov.uk/education-and-children/schools/reconnect for further details.
More advice and support for children can be found at www.childline.org and children can call and speak to a volunteer counsellor, free and in confidence by calling 0800 1111.